In advance of his approaching 100th day as president, Donald Trump sat down with the Associated Press for an interview about what he’s done and what he’s failed to do in office so far. But Trump just couldn’t stop talking about the 2016 election.
Trump was asked by the AP’s Julie Pace whether or not he would veto a spending bill that kept the government open but didn’t include the $1.4 billion he has requested as a sort of down payment on his much-promised border wall. Here’s how Trump answered:
“I don’t know yet. People want the border wall. My base definitely wants the border wall, my base really wants it — you’ve been to many of the rallies. OK, the thing they want more than anything is the wall. My base, which is a big base; I think my base is 45 percent. You know, it’s funny. The Democrats, they have a big advantage in the electoral college. Big, big, big advantage. I’ve always said the popular vote would be a lot easier than the electoral college. The electoral college — but it’s a whole different campaign (unintelligible). The electoral college is very difficult for a Republican to win, and I will tell you, the people want to see it.”
Here’s a quick diagram of Trump’s line of thinking in that answer:
Border wall —→ base likes —-→ base is big —-→ Democrats have an edge in electoral college —→ it’s a big edge —-→ I thought I would win the popular vote —-→ I won the electoral college —-→ My base wants to see the wall.
So, well, um ok.
Later in the interview, Pace asks whether Trump thinks he has the right team in place for his next 100 days in office. Trump praises his military team. Pace follows up about his White House staff. Here’s how Trump responds:
“Yeah, my White House team. I think Reince (Priebus) has been doing an excellent job. I think that, you know, this is a very tough environment not caused necessarily by me. Although the election has, you know, look, the Democrats had a tremendous opportunity because the electoral college, as I said, is so skewed to them. You start off by losing in New York and California, no matter who it is. If, if Abe Lincoln came back to life, he would lose New York and he would lose California. It’s just the registration, there’s nothing you can do. So you’re losing the two biggest states, that’s where you start. OK. The Electoral College is so skewed in favor of a Democrat that it’s very, very hard…..so she had this massive advantage, she spent hundreds of millions of dollars more money than I spent. Hundreds of millions … Yeah. Or more, actually because we were $375 she was at $2.2 billion. But whatever. She spent massive amounts of money more and she lost. Solidly lost, because you know it wasn’t 270, it was 306.”
And here’s how Trump’s mind worked on that answer:
Reince Priebus is doing a good job —→ the political environment is difficult but it’s not my fault —→ Democrats should have won —-→ New York and California are very Democratic states —-→ Abe Lincoln —→ Electoral college favors Democrats —→ Clinton should have won –→ I got outspent —→ I won —-→ I won by more than people thought.
Neither of Pace’s questions come anywhere close to mentioning the election. In fact, both are forward looking; one touches on the expectation of a bill to fund the government emerging before the deadline Friday night while the other is about Trump’s second 100 days.
And yet, Trump found a way to bring both answers back to his victory in 2016 through a series of seeming non sequiturs. (I say “seeming” because clearly the logic hops made sense to Trump if not to me.)
At one level, Trump’s desire to keep returning to the election makes sense. It was his greatest glory, his definitive proof point that all the people who mocked or laughed at him over the years were wrong and that he was right. No one thought he could win. And he won. We all like to revel in our past successes to some degree.
At issue for Trump is that he continues to seem more interested in how he won the office than what he will do with the office. An occasional reminder of a time when you won is great. But Trump is bordering on Uncle Rico (of “Napoleon Dynamite”) territory here. If you don’t know what I am talking about, watch this:
“Back in ‘82 I used to be able to throw a pigskin a quarter mile,” Uncle Rico recalls. “If coach would have put me in fourth quarter we would have been state champions….no doubt in my mind.”
The point is: Dwelling too much in the past makes you a prisoner of the past. Trump won a historic upset. No question. But, now he’s president. So, how he got elected – and how no one called it – is now less relevant than what he plans to do in the office.
Congressional Republicans are desperate for something more than just rhetoric and 50,000 foot policy statements. They want real guidance about specific policy proposals Trump favors and a a blueprint for how to get them passed.
Instead, Trump just keeps reliving past glories.